HC Deb 01 March 1929 vol 225 cc2410-24

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill has its origin in two facts: The first is that the pensions of Governors, as opposed to the pensions of all other Colonial civil servants, are regulated by Statute, all the others being regulated by local pensions Ordinances in the various Colonies. The last Statute on this subject, the governing Statute, was passed before the War, in 1911, and since that date two things have happened. There has come into association with the British Empire a new form of dependency for which Governors have to be provided, namely, mandated territories, and, unless there is a change in the Statute, it will not be possible to pay the same pension to the Governor of any mandated territory as is paid to the Governors of Colonies and Protectorates, mandated territories having come into existence since 1911. So legislation in any case is necessary. It is also clear that all other civil servants have had their pensions reconsidered in the light of changes in the value of money. My right hon. Friend therefore decided to set up a small committee to go into what was necessary to do justice to the Governors vis-à-vis all other types of civil servants. That Committee was composed of Lord Buxton as Chairman, the party on this side was represented by that stern economist the Member for York (Sir J. Marriott), the party opposite by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell), and the Liberal party by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton). A senior Treasury official who had detailed experience of the working of pension matters also served on the Committee. They came to a unanimous conclusion and presented a report which has been laid before Parliament as Command Paper 3059. This Bill is in the main to give effect to the recommendations of that Committee, and to apply the Pensions Act of 1911 to mandated territories.

Clause l increases the rate of pension which will be paid, and the maximum to which pensions can be computed on the proposed new scale. Practically the whole of this Measure applies to those who have been long in the service of the Crown and who started before in the home Civil Service or in one of the Colonial services and have worked up to the position of Governor. Clause 2, therefore, enables an ex-Civil Service Governor who has completed ten years' service as Governor to take a pension under the Superannuation Acts based upon his last Civil Service salary if this would be more to his advantage than the ordinary Governor's pension. This would make it possible to avoid the anomaly which would result gram a senior civil servant in one of the larger Colonies being appointed to a governorship in one of the lower classes. Hon. Members will see that Colonies are graded into different classes according to their size and importance, and that Malaya, Ceylon, and Nigeria, and the like, are in a higher class than the Bahamas or Gambia or similar Colonies. This Clause will enable a retiring Governor to obtain whichever is the better pension, either the Governor's pension or the Civil Service pension.

The main point in Clause 3 is to clear up technical defects in the existing Acts under which no pension can be granted to an ex-Civil Service Governor who has not completed 10 years as Governor and has not reached the age of 60 and for whom no further employment is available. The Clause is dated back to 1922 in order to cover the case of one ex-Civil Service Governor who retired then and has not yet received any pension.

Clause 4 provides for the payment of a death gratuity to an ex-Civil Service Governor who dies in service and whose estate would be eligible for such gratuity if he had died while holding his last Civil Service appointment. This only applies at present to Governors appointed from the home Civil Service such as the present Governor of Nigeria, but not to the Governor of the Gold Coast, who is an ex-Colonial civil servant. Clause 5 applies to cases where under present: circumstances a pension is to be reduced on re-employment and allows the reduction to be waived in cases of purely temporary employment lasting for less than one year. The remaining Clauses lay down the necessary provisions for bringing Governors and High Commissioners of mandated territories, including Palestine and Iraq, and the Resident at Aden, who has recently come under the Colonial Office, into the scope of the Act. I need not say any more except to call attention to one point, and that is that, having gone very carefully into the matter, the Committee were unanimously of the opinion that the question of the pensions of Governors who retired before this Committee investigated the matter should not be reopened. I will read what the Committee recommend: We recommend that any changes in the rates and conditions of pension which may be made as a result of this report should not apply to persons who have already left the Service, but should apply, generally speaking, retrospectively to all Governors who are in the Service at the time when the changes are introduced. We consider, however, that provision should be made in one special case which has been brought to our notice 3.0.p.m.

—that is the case that I have mentioned already as having been dealt with in Clause 4. It is quite clear that it would be impossible to reopen the cases of those Governors who finished their service some years before the Committee went into the question of what justice demanded in the future. That was the unanimous recommendation of the. Committee, and has been agreed to by the Treasury. It safeguards the taxpayer and is in accordance with the general rule of the Service. It would lead to a whole series of precedents right through the Civil Service if we reopened the alder cases.


I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman must feel pleased with himself to-day that he is not in the role of his chief with a number of his own friends wanting something more. This Bill is long overdue, for this reason. There must be changes which are really necessary at this moment in our Colonial Service, and they ought to he immediately dealt with. Equally, one must keep in mind that the unfair anomalous system that exists to-day prevents re-arrangements which I certainly think are necessary. There is another point which this Bill raises. My hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich '(Mr. Snell) made a reservation on the Committee. It was a justifiable reservation, and one which, though I am not sure that it can be dealt with in this Bill, will have to be faced in the future. That question is: How long are we to continue a system which—I do not say in the main—prevents people with all the qualifications, all the character and all the experience necessary, from taking up the position of Governor, merely because of their limited means? This is common knowledge on both sides of the House, and everyone who has had to deal with this question knows perfectly well that this is one of the scandals. When one considers the tremendous responsibility of our civil servants and of our Governors and of our white population who go into these tropical countries, an opportunity ought to be given to the very best men it is possible to obtain. We are all agreed on that, and yet there are scores of cases which I have in mind where, the barrier is merely one of wealth. This question ought to be tackled and seriously faced. There is the other side of it. What is worse than that someone who has held the responsible position of Governor—who, after all, is the representative of His Majesty with all the prestige and position attached to the post—should come back and merely struggle along for a miserable existence? That is neither dignified nor creditable, and it is something which must deter sensitive men from taking these positions.

Therefore, all these factors ought to be considered. At the present, time we may say to a very distinguished civil servant: "Will you take the further responsibility to which both your experience and your service entitles you? In our judgment, you are the best man for the job." If he responds to that national request, he is immediately put into the position that he has to suffer in his pension, because he discharges a public duty. It is absurd to continue such an anomaly. There are some of my friends who feel, and quite rightly so, that they do not oppose the principle of the Bill merely because it tries to rectify a wrong, but because they say, and I cannot help associating myself with many of them in this respect, "Whilst you are rectifying these anomalies, whilst you are dealing with these abuses, whilst you are dealing with people in positions of high responsibility, why not also tackle the abuses at the lower end of the scale?" That is a sentiment which I understand and appreciate, and that is a position which I should like to see rectified. On the other hand, we all feel that it is not sufficient merely to continue a wrong and not rectify it. It is a good thing to draw attention to all wrongs, but it is equally bad to refuse to rectify one wrong because you do not do the bigger thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East gave important time and attention to the proceedings of the Committee, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will admit that he made a valuable contribution to the work of the Committee. He signed the Report, which emphasises the need for rectifying the anomalies which I have described. For these reasons, I hope that the Bill will speedily become, law.


It is not my intention to oppose the Bill. The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs is looking after certain people by seeking to right a wrong, and that involves some financial responsibility for the State. It is well, while this Bill is before the House, that we should let it be known what will be the cost, particularly as the Financial Resolution was passed through without Debate. This Bill will increase the unit of pension in four classes: In Class I, from, £5 to £6; in Class II, from £4 to £5; Class III, from £3 to £4, and Class IV, from £2 to £3.


Each grade gets an advance of £1 per month.


Twelve pounds per annum. There is also a statement that the increase of pension goes up from £1,300 to £2,000, and that involves about £6,000 annually. I recall a remark made by the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). He said that he looked upon pensions as deferred pay, and that anybody occupying a Civil position ought to look forward to a pension at the end of his time in the Service. I agree with that principle, if carried out all round. If I can get an assurance from the Government and from hon. Members opposite, that on other occasions when pensions are involved they will help us to readjust matters, I would say at once that we are in hearty agreement with the steps that are being taken to place people who are at present in high positions on to a fair footing with regard to pensions. When we attempted to readjust other pensions we got no help from the party opposite. It was said that it would be an additional expense to the State and our request was refused. We tried to get several injustices under the Widows' and Orphans' Contributory Pensions Act put right, but the Minister of Health told us that it would cost too much and could not be done.

This is where I blame hon. Members opposite. We have just been dealing with the case of Irish loyalists and now we have this proposal, but when we attempt to remedy wrongs which obtain in the case of other pensioners we receive no assistance at all. If hon. Members opposite were genuine they would assist us because the people for whom we speak certainly need these pensions. Only this week I asked the Home Secretary to try and remedy an injustice under the Workmen's Compensation Act, but I got no response at all except that there was not time to attend to it. These are the things which urge hon. Members on this side to make known to the country what is happening, and, although we are not carrying the point any further this afternoon, I cannot allow this occasion to pass without emphasising, as strongly as I can, these other injustices which, I think, should be put right, and I am hoping that hon. Members opposite will take the next opportunity of helping us in matters with which we are deeply concerned.


The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies has said that the Committee decided that it was impossible to re-open the case of these Governors. I should like to ask him why he makes use of the word "impossible." These Governors have done very arduous work and went through a, time of tremendous responsibility during the War. They are very few in number, and I am quite sure he will be able to tell us why it should be impossible to inquire into these few cases and put them right. I appreciate the fact that this pension scheme is brought in in a Measure for the Governors of mandated territories. The simpler plan would be to increase the pay of these Governors on the clear understanding that their pensions should be based on the old rate of pay. That seems to me would have met the trouble, but I should like an explanation why any investigation into the matter is impossible. That is not quite sufficient for most people.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I gather that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir B. Falle) is asking that the Bill should be made retrospective.


Yes, for one year.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member, but rather to emphasise what has been said by the two hon. Members who have already spoken from these benches. It seems curious that a chief secretary to a Colonial Governor should receive a higher pension when he retires than the Governor himself. That is an anomaly which you will find throughout professional life. Many successful barristers are much better off than the Judges before whom they plead, and I have heard it stated that some hon. Members made sacrifices when they accepted office in the Government. I could quote cases from the Navy, to show that the captain of a ship receives not only a smaller pension, but has had less pay than his chief engineer. I dare say that there are similar cases both in the Army and the Air Force. Nevertheless they are anomalies and it is just that they should be put right. But I am rather surprised that this Bill has been brought forward now, in view of the way in which the Government time is mortgaged. The Government have taken the whole of private Members' time because of the urgency of public business and the glut of Bills. Again and again we have asked for Measures to be brought in, in reference to matters like workmen's compensation. One glaring example is provided by the colliery companies. The Government admit the injustice in such a case but cannot find time for the Bill. But they can find time to raise to £2,000 the pensions of those who now receive only £1,300.

What is the urgency there, compared with the urgency in the case of the working man who is injured at the coal face and who, because a company goes into liquidation, has no sort of redress under the Workmen's Compensation Act? Then take other pension cases. A day or two ago we were given an answer, from which it appears that up to the end of last year 25,208 widows lost their pensions because their youngest child had reached the age of 14, and the 5s. allowance of the youngest child was also stopped. These are the things that we would rather see dealt with immediately. This is one-sided legislation. The Bill by itself is just and right, but it deals with only one class of the community. This afternoon we have passed a subsidy for the Government of Northern Ireland, because it is politically allied to the Imperial Government. We have passed an unknown liability for the Government's political friends in Southern Ireland, and now we are passing this third Bill in order that Colonial Governors shall enjoy higher pensions.


They are lint politicians.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

No, but they come from the governing class—the class from which the hon. Gentleman and I come.


What about O'Grady?

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

He does not come under this Bill. The Noble Lord had better make further inquiry.


I think the Noble Lord has said something which ought not to have been said. I think it is recognised that Governors, whoever selects them, and from whatever party they may be selected, once they become Governors are the King's representatives and as such should not be subject to any sneers from the Noble Lord or anyone else in this House. I feel it necessary to say that in defence of one who is, I believe, giving satisfaction to everybody.




May I say—

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I think I was in possession of the House. I wan not making any sneers at all. I said that the majority of the people whom this Bill is intended to benefit come from the governing class. There is no sneer there. It is no dishonour yet to belong to the Under-Secretary's class or mine.


I do not belong to any class. As regards the Colonial Governors and the members of the Colonial service, no question of class enters into the matter at any stage of their careers. All this snobbery, in the name of party, about distinctions of class is perfectly disgusting.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. He belongs to one of the Estates of the Realm and I am in exactly the same position. We both belong to a certain order, and to say we do not belong to a class is absolute nonsense. To say that the majority of Colonial Governors, and members of the Colonial service do not come from a distinctly governing class, is sheer humbug. Of course they do, and there is no snobbery in saying it. We talk about members of the working class without being accused of snobbery and, when we talk about the governing class, we make a perfectly well-understood distinction concerning which there should be no allegation of snobbery. I did not think at all of the case of the Governor of Tasmania, and certainly I would not sneer at him at all. I understand, as have said, that he does not come under the Bill. There is, of course, from our point of view a case for increasing these pensions on the ground that you will not have to draw all your Governors from the moneyed class, but there is a far stronger case for dealing with those widows and other members of the working class who have been mentioned. I hope I will not be accused of snobbery if I make a distinction between payments to these Governors and payments to widows whose treatment by the State has been mean and shabby.

I recognise that two wrongs will not make a right and we would not help these people by leaving any injustice to operate in the case of these Colonial Governors. The Under-Secretary can hurl as many insults at me as he likes. I do not mind in the least, but I wish he and his political party were as anxious to remove injustices from these deserving classes as they are to help those who come from well-to-do families and who, though they may be in financial difficulties, are not in actual want. We plead again and again for people on the border line of starvation and what help do we get from hon. Members opposite? They are loyal members of the Government. They cannot revolt. They must obey the party Whips and play the game, and that is the end of it. It is not good enough, and while two wrongs do not make a right, and I do not want to vote against the Bill, I protest against a Government which cannot find time to remove flagrant and glaring injustices being able to find time to bring in such Measures as we have had to-day.


The Dominions Secretary has told us he does not belong to one class. I was born and bred into the working class.


That is only a side issue.


I am prepared to let that drop if you do not desire us to continue on that line, Mr. Speaker. But I want to join in the protest against what one regards as the unfair action of the Government in being so eager to increase the pensions of these privileged people. The first Order this morning showed that the Government are anxious to deal with these questions before they leave office, and this Bill also shows an anxiety on their part to deal with privileged people while they still have the power. We say that if the Government want to deal with pensions, surely there is a case for the Government dealing with pensions all round. These Dominion Governors would in any case receive pensions of £1,300 a year, and this proposal is to increase them to £2,000 a year. We find that this involves an increased demand on the Treasury of between £5,000 and £6,000 a year. Well, if the Government have got £6,000 a year to spare, we submit that that sum would provide pensions for 230 people who are not receiving any pension at all at the moment. Our protest is a protest because at the present time a working man, not after 10 years' service but after 51 years' service, has to be content with a pension of 228 a year, which is not sufficient to enable a man to live as he ought to live.

I have a case in mind of a man who paid into the National Insurance scheme from its start. He went to Canada for two years on his doctor's order, to benefit his health. He then came back and was in work for five years, and when he reached the age of 63 he found he was not entitled to an old age pension, but that he must wait until he is 70 years of age. He is unable to work or to draw unemployment benefit, and he has to exist on Poor Law relief. There are hundreds of cases like that, and we say that the Government could have spent this money to far better advantage. The Government do not see it in this light, but, as a matter of fact, they have given to us some of the best material we could have for the coming General Election. We can go to our working-class Divisions and say, "This is the way in which the Government treat the different classes of people in this country." First there were the Foreign Office pensions, then the Diplomatic pensions, then the Judicial Committee pensions, and now we have the Dominion Governors' pensions. So the Government enable us to go to the working class and to say, "You have to starve on £26 a year, or to exist on Poor Law relief until you are 70 years of age, yet at the same time the Government is finding public money to increase the pensions of these privileged people." The working class will judge the Government on their action in this matter.


I really must offer my protest against the method adopted by the Government in this matter of pensions. Like my colleagues, I am not going to divide the House upon this Bill, but I do wish to point out how the Government treat some of their servants much differently than they treat others. Men who have spent years in the service of the War Department or the Admiralty-20, 30, 40, or even 50 years, as I am reminded by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell)—and then are discharged without a, pension. I know there is a gratuity, but that goes a very small way indeed to the man who has rendered such service to the country. Every effort we have made to secure their being made pensionable has been turned down by the Government. In the case of the Admiralty, every attempt on behalf of these men has been turned down by the Government, not only in the matter of pension, but even in the small matter of the Government treating these industrial employés to a week's holiday with pay. Even that has been refused by the Government, although it is given by other employers to the extent of 1,500,000 workpeople. The Government lag behind. When it comes to pensions, as the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) has pointed out, all those who have a better chance than these industrial employés of the Government to make some provision for the period after their service, are the ones who have the first consideration. While not opposing this Measure at this time, I hold that it is the duty of the Government to look after these other employés of theirs, and to see that they have pensions. The very least they could do even now would be to arrange that those in their service should have an opportunity of a week's holiday with pay this year.


I want to protest at the way the Government are dealing with the various classes of people. I have in my mind at the moment the ease of a man who was severely injured and ought to be drawing a pension, but has been refused it. Would it not be much better for the Government to look into the cases of people who cannot do without some help in their old age? The Government are looking after Irish loyalists and others, but will give nothing to people who need it in this country. They may say they cannot afford to pay pensions to people under 65. They refuse to give pensions which are absolutely essential on grounds of economy. I admit that these people are doing national work, but they do no more national work than the man who goes into the mine to hew coal. I know of a woman who had a son and she got a pension for a short time because her daughter was not 14 years of age. Her son left her to get married, and that woman is now drawing relief from the guardians when she ought to be receiving 10s. a week pension. Not only are you depriving people who are poor and needy of their pensions, but you are throwing increased burdens on the ratepayers by compelling them to go to the guardians. The Measure to give pensions to widows was introduced with a great flourish of trumpets by the Conservative party, but there are thousands who are in need of help and are deprived of it. Yet the Government can afford to give pensions to people who can manage to get on without them. I plead with the Government to do some good during the remainder of their term of office and to do justice to the people who need their help. If it were not for the poor helping the poor, this country would not be so tranquil as it is, and the Government should help those who need help rather than such people as they are being assisted by this Measure.


I do not complain that the introduction of this Measure should have been utilised as an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that there are other anomalies besides those which this Measure proposes to redress. That is perfectly true and, indeed, some of them may intrinsically be greater hardships. There is a real difference between this Measure and some of the matters which have been introduced into the discussion. This Measure deals with a limited grievance which has been investigated with the greatest care by a Committee in which all parties of the House were represented, and about which the Committee were unanimous. Therefore, we believed it would be possible, without waste of Parliamentary time, and by agreement between the parties, to make progress with a reform which, while it may not go as deep in our social life as other reforms which are well worthy of the attention of the House, is yet of national importance as well as of importance to the individuals. It will help us to secure the most capable and most efficient men, from whatever class of society they may have originated, to carry on the affairs of the Colonial Empire, which is not only a source of justifiable pride but also a matter of vital interest to every industry and to every class in the community. Therefore: I hope that hon. Members opposite, having drawn attention to the fact that this Measure deals only with a small corner of the field of anomalies which exist in our lives, will now be satisfied.

There is, of course, another anomaly, from the point of view of abstract justice, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir B. Falle) drew attention, and that is the case of men who slaved and toiled in the past, retired some years ago, and are now living on perhaps a very slender pension. They have done quite as great service to the State as those who retired in the last twelve months or will retire in the future; but it was felt by the Committee that to open that question would involve the whole question of retrospective increases of pension for Colonial civil servants and, indeed, for other classes. Therefore, though sacrificing abstract justice, in order to get on and do practical justice the Committee limited the field of their recommendation. What is felt with regard to the anomaly as between one set of governors and another, applies, of course, no less to the anomalies be- tween helping this particular and deserving class and helping other classes who are no doubt as fully or even more deserving. This is a practical measure of redress, which in no sense precludes further progress in the future, and, indeed, possibly lays down principles which may well be quoted on behalf of that progress in the future, and we hope the Bill may now be allowed to get its Second Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next. — [Mr. Amery]

The remaining Government Orders mere read, and postponed.

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